Ashes of the Earth

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Thirty years after global holocaust, the colony of Carthage still struggles to build its new world. While steam engines and other early industrial technology have empowered its economy, the fragile society is undermined by secret crimes, rifts between generations, government censorship, and a legacy of casting out those who suffer from radiation sickness.

Embittered survivor Hadrian Boone-once a revered colony founder-has been hounded by despair and the ghosts of his past into a life of drunkenness and frequent imprisonment for challenging the governor’s tyranny. But when a gentle old man, the colony’s leading scientist, is murdered, Hadrian glimpses chilling secrets behind the killing that could destroy the colony. Realizing that he may be the only one able to expose the truth, Hadrian begins a desperate quest through the underbelly of the colony into the wrenching camps of the outcasts, escorted by a young policewoman who struggles to cope with the physical and emotional remnants of the prior world. Ultimately Hadrian’s journey becomes one of self-discovery, and to find justice his greatest challenge is navigating the tortuous path of the human spirit in a world that has been forever fractured.


Endings of worlds have occurred throughout human history. Some have been abrupt, like the annihilation of the original, ancient Carthage by the Romans. Some have been gradual, like the destruction of the Tibetan world over the past fifty years by the Chinese. But none have encompassed all of humankind. Only in recent years have we developed the capability for annihilation on a planetary scale. While there may be many reasons to believe that such a nightmare will never occur, the moment that capability became real, global apocalypse entered the realm of the possible.


“Eliot Pattison writes a marvelous thought provoking end of the world novel. He has created a believable dystopian world where society is still separated by class, governing officials look little beyond what they want to accomplish, and criminal organizations still find a foothold to worm their way in. Hadrian cannot forget the past and cannot live as if there was nothing that came before. He understands that there are lessons to be learned, and Jonah’s murder is an eye opener that cannot be ignored. His journey leads him into the midst of so much more than he ever imagined. Mr. Pattison weaves an exceptional mystery with so many twists and turns, you begin to wonder if the maze will ever end. ASHES OF THE EARTH is a smart daring read with characters that grab hold of you. I was immediately entranced with the characters, their plight, and their yearning for a better life. This book gives you a lot to think about, and Mr. Pattison has written a winner.” –Fresh Fiction

“From his award-winning tales of Chinese-occupied Tibet to his New World drama, Eye of the Raven (2010), to this complexly plotted, postapocalyptic crime story set along the shores of Lake Ontario, Pattison’s precisely imagined mysteries evoke clashes between invaders and indigenous people and feature tormented, self-appointed sleuths who risk all to help dissidents. His latest champion is Hadrian Boone. Once a beloved educator and leader in Carthage, a community struggling to cohere in the wake of a nuclear holocaust, Hadrian turns to drink and lands repeatedly in prison as he grieves for his lost family and protests the increasingly dictatorial rule of the governor. When Jonah Beck, a brilliant scientist, is murdered, Hadrian investigates. Persevering against nearly fatal violence, he uncovers diabolical criminal endeavors involving drugs, smuggled consumer goods salvaged from distant warehouses, and child suicides. Hadrian also discovers a motley resistance movement, including a courageous couple guarding a vast secret library. With a vital cast of villains and heroes, a vividly grim setting, and inventive, hairraising action, ingenious mystery-writer-of-conscience Pattison explores the psychological toll of mass destruction and the need to salvage ideas and values, rather than material riches, so that a just society can rise from the ashes.”– Donna Seaman, BookList

“Having successfully portrayed both modern-day Tibet and Colonial America in two series, Edgar-winner Pattison (Eye of the Raven) launches a third with this brilliant if grim mystery set in the 21st century 25 years after global mega-acts of terror have destroyed all U.S. government entities and almost all infrastructure. Hadrian Boone, one of the cofounders of the struggling colony of Carthage, located near the Great Lakes, is one of those who remembers the former world, as the time before the apocalypse is referred to, but he’s on the outs with the community’s leaders and on the verge of being exiled. The chance discovery of a body triggers a series of events that reintroduces murder and other crimes to a community reliant on 19th-century technology. Boone’s efforts to find the truth and what it implies for Carthage’s future put him in harm’s way time after time. Pattison blends the bleakness of The Road with a well-crafted whodunit plot for another winner.” —Publishers Weekly

“International attorney Eliot Pattison already has two powerful detection (and spiritual search) series underway: one sent in Chinese-occupied Tibet, more or less “now,” and the other set in Colonial America, tying together the despair and strength of a Scottish exile and a Native American shaman.

In ASHES OF THE EARTH, Pattison dares to stare forward into a ravaged world, one torn and decimated by the horror of a nuclear holocaust. Although survivor Hadrian Boone is dealing with a fragile remnant of population — so fragile that the very idea of abortion, for instance, is more than heresy, since the need for repopulating the earth is so extreme — and although cities have shattered and fallen, still, evil in its most common forms of lust, covetousness, and cruelty looks likely to prevail…

Read it first as a taut, tightly plotted detective novel, human and agonized. Then let it rest in your thoughts. What Pattison offers us is a dose of courage for ourselves, disguised as a rattling good story.”    –Kingdom Books


For Hadrian Boone the ending of the world has no ending. The apocalypse that all but extinguished humankind may have occurred twenty-five years earlier, but for Hadrian each day he wakes in the small colony of survivors the torment begins anew. When his friend and mentor Jonah Beck, the leading scientist of Carthage colony, is brutally murdered, Hadrian abandons all hope. But as the colony’s tyrannical governor begins to use the murder as an excuse to complete his destruction of the colony’s outcasts, Hadrian rises out of his despair, determined to stop the governor by discovering the truth.

Hadrian begins a desperate journey through the underbelly of the colony and into the wretched camps of the outcasts, escorted by Jori Waller, a young policewoman who struggles to cope with the physical and emotional remnants of a world she never knew. Ultimately Hadrian’s journey becomes one of self-discovery, and to find justice his greatest challenge is navigating the tortuous path of the human spirit in a world that has been forever shattered.

Pattison’s post-apocalyptic world is populated with battered survivors who murmur fifty-year old rock songs like mantras, criminals who use secrets of the old world to subvert the new, priests who fear God has given up on humankind, and a new generation whose view of history is driven by myth and fear. Ashes of the Earth offers a journey through a alternate world that poignantly explores the meaning of justice, morality, and ultimately civilization itself.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Most post-apocalyptic novels are set in the bleak near-term aftermath of destruction. Why do you think Pattison chose to set Ashes of the Earth a generation after the apocalypse?
  2. Why do you think Pattison never speaks in his book of the specific causes of the apocalypse?
  3. The colony of Carthage struggles to construct a new world on the ashes of the old. While it has knowledge of 21st century science, the only tools and technology available to it are of the early industrial age. How do you think science and technology would evolve under such circumstances? How did Pattison’s selection of the Great Lakes setting for Carthage affect its technology and economy?
  4. If, as in Carthage colony, all literature and history of recent decades is forbidden, how will culture and learning evolve? When, as in Carthage, religion is intertwined with the works of Shakespeare, what do you think the outcome would be? How do the vestiges of culture salvaged from multiple centuries affect life in Carthage?
  5. The murdered Jonah Beck was driven in his final months by the poet Dylan Thomas’ injunction to “rage against the dying of the light.” When she encounters the ruined lands for the first time in a generation, Nelly states that “I’m not sure any more if we are the spark of civilization. Maybe we are just the dying ember.” Might the poet’s words have different meanings for different characters in Ashes of the Earth?
  6. Pattison offers several perspectives on Lucas Buchanan, the governor of Carthage colony. After reading the book, do you see Buchanan as a tyrant or a victim of the events he himself set into motion?
  7. Pattison has often stated that when writing his novels his characters become very real companions to him. What would it be like to have companions living on the other side of the apocalypse?
  8. Why would the characters in Ashes treat the ruins of the prior world—our current world– and chronicles of the years just prior to the apocalypse as taboo? For many colonists, Pattison writes, “Revealing modern history to your children was like telling them they had a genetic disease.” If you were a survivor of that world with children born afterwards, how do you think you would describe that lost world to them?
  9. Pattison states that in writing Ashes he began to sense tension between the survivors and the new generation. Jori Waller rails at Hadrian that “the only real people to you are in your nightmares!” How do you think a character born after the apocalypse would view the lost world? With resentment? With sympathy? With fear?
  10. A shadow seems to lurk in many scenes of Ashes. Often it seems this must be the annihilation of the prior civilization—our civilization. But sometimes it feels like it may be civilization itself. Which is it?
  11. In describing his alternate future Pattison has stated “Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.” What do you think he means?
  12. Pattison’s novels are often said to span genres. Ashes of the Earth may be a mystery but it is also speculative fiction, and often has the atmosphere of an historical novel. How would you characterize it?
Eliot Pattison

“The best of historical novels allow us to commit our entire spirit to understanding another world that was once our own.”

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